The Scottish trio’s name taken from Bert Jansch’s 1979 album, the music crafted by Iona Zajac on Celtic harp (clarsach), guitarist Sam Grassie and double bassist Herbie Loening also often recalls the jazz, folk and blues cocktail of Jansch’s influential first band, Pentangle.
Variously accompanied by Guillermo Martín-Viana on percussion, flautist Tenzin Stephen, Ignacio Santoro also contributing on double bass and saxophonist Duncan Mark-Horne, it begins by laying out its influence on the jazzy folk blues circling guitar notes and puttering percussion of ‘Sell Me To The Wind’, Zajac inviting you on the musical journey as, taking to the skies, she sings “Just close your eyes and you will see, why you flew with me”.
Opening to the sound of shimmering harp, the dreamily sung ‘If Only’ was inspired by Louis Sachar’s poem of the same name, the first to adopt an eco-theme as Zajac sings “if only the kingfisher cries/They’re damming the river, ever so high/If only, they’d give up drilling in the blue” and “if only our restless minds/Would give up burning bridges and tame the tides”, addressing nature and the planet with the question “Are we friends or thorns in your side?”
A Malian influence seeps into the breathily sung march beat title track, psychedelic guitar notes weaving across the hypnotic melody on a song addressing global conflicts and the desire to “be free from those fighting a war so separate from me” and “not hide my cheer for fear of never being someone”, a call to share the planet rather than divide it summed up in the refrain “Lend your garden to another/And it will blossom further”.
Harp and guitar skimming across the underlying bassline like light reflecting off water, ‘Glarabi’ is an instrumental, the title of which may or may not be a variation on Gl’Arabi, a reference to a Sufi mystic.
There’s more of an Occidental sounds to the harp notes that introduce and sparkle through ‘So Recently’, which, backed by metronomic percussion, again unfolds environmental themes (“Man’s dreams given absence/Never hearing the crying land…Rulers surf on the melting rise/Others feel the burn of the solar’s eye”), then Grassie makes his first vocal appearance, duetting with Zajac on ‘First Flight’, she counterpointing him, one of the strongest Pentangle echoes on a song that appears to be about a relationship in stasis (“Visit to the place where we first lay dreaming/Still can’t recall what you’re feeling”) and which teasingly repeats the chorus line “You dammed the water just to watch it win” from ‘If Only’.
Orginally featured on their debut EP and another number resonating with those Jansch and McShee influences, the ethereal ‘Causeway’, on which flute flutters in the background, is the longest track at nearly six minutes, fading away to give place to ‘Too Early’, another stream of consciousness relationships rumination (“Ouch stubble sore on soft skin/Last week brush me elsewhere/Rough morning sharp face not safe”) that remains emotionally ambiguous but does the sport the evocative line “We combed fingers like pinecones”.
Backed by double bass, ‘Cheeks Like Jelly’ takes the slinky-voiced Zajac firmly into cool late 60s jazz cellar territory with harp substituting for piano on a particularly sensual number about the burning shame and the stings inflicted by others as she cautions “My love you mustn’t worry of disgrace”.
Featuring brushed drums and a persistent nimbly picked guitar line, the headily narcotic ‘Angie’s Cradle’ is a clear homage to and incorporation of the classic folk-blues instrumental by Davey Graham, himself one of the founding Pentangle members. Then, again taken at a lazy brushed snare pace, the vocals sounding like Zajac’s stirring from sleep, ‘Steal From The Road’ features a brief jazzy solo from Stephen, before they end with a reprise of their five minute debut single B-side, the enervated blues ‘Cheating Monday’, recorded by Mark Freegard back in 2018 and featuring Loening’s bass and Horne on sax, although there’s no credit here for Daniel Ashton minimalist pianist contribution.
As well as the obvious and admitted Jansch colours, you might also discern a hint of John Martyn around the edges of what is a highly accomplished piece of work that nods to its influences but weaves them into its own design. Like Jansch’s album, the name refers to a distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a curved bill that is the symbol for the RSPB. Like the bird, the trio navigates the folk currents with dexterity and are ready to take flight.
Artists’ website: www.facebook.com/Avocetunes/
‘Glarabi’ – live by candlelight:
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